Failure of the anti-money laundering bill

After months of rhetoric and bickering on the anti-money laundering bill, the political leaders who have been elected to run this country’s affairs finally delivered on Thursday night. The fruit of their labours was unfortunately a still-born bill and the promise of further stalemate and rancour.

So much has been written and expounded on the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill that it defies good sense to add too much more.  The politics of the 10th Parliament is hopelessly addicted to division and gridlock. It needs an intervention of sober minds and genuine compromise. Who can deliver this detoxing?

Two aspects of Thursday’s proceedings are worth underlining. The first is that the failure to pass this bill, which under normal circumstances and in a responsible House would have been unanimously asseverated, will at the minimum put financial transactions of various sectors under deeper scrutiny with its attendant inconveniences. The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), the regional body tasked with bringing stragglers like Guyana into line, may yet be importuned to delay any blacklisting on the grounds that a political dispute rather than disagreement over the essential elements of the bill has caused a delay in its implementation. There are however other watchers. Shutting off financing loopholes for terrorists is of great interest in major Western capitals particularly Washington and not only  to its administration but also its legislature, the intentions of the latter being far more difficult to predict. The country’s name can very easily be added to lists of the recalcitrant on these important matters. There are other untold interconnections in the global financial system, which if not at imminent risk as the government has shrilly claimed, could very well be affected were the stalemate to persist and the CFATF requirements not implemented. Reports of Guyana being a destination of risk for financial flows will feed into major international banks and their partners with yet unknown consequences.

The second point worth noting is that the result from parliament on Thursday underlines that the political firmament is bitterly and deeply divided to the point of being uncaring of legislation that is vital to the country’s well-being. There is no solomonic wisdom but an air of toxicity that threatens to engulf all of the work in this Parliament and filter into the population on the whole. The government and the opposition had virtually six months to chart the terms of an agreement satisfactory to both sides. That this could not be done points to the intractability of the discord and the absence of a viable framework for dialogue and back channels between the leaders of the parties. This does not bode well for a legislature where the government is unable to approve anything: petition, motion or bill without the support of the opposition. Both sides need to analyse their implacability and begin mapping the contours of mechanisms to breach the stalemate with the understanding that there has to be give and take. President Ramotar’s declaration of an intention to re-examine the government’s relationship with the opposition needs a healthy infusion of the reality that his is a minority administration and a modus vivendi is absolutely essential to productive and feasible governance.

In the aftermath of the failure of the bill two developments were worthy of comment. President Ramotar at a press conference on Friday said that the government would have been prepared to reopen discussion at the level of the select committee so that the opposition could have their full views presented but that the government wanted a timeline. If it was not a gratuitous and empty statement, then President Ramotar should explain why it was that the Chair of the Select Committee considering the bill and the government’s Chief Whip, Ms Teixeira closed off post-haste the deliberations of the body, precipitating the stand-off that eventually led to the failure of the bill. As far as the thinking public is concerned there was no drop dead date by which the bill had to be passed. It had been clear to all including the Guyana Government that because of the significant delays by the administration in executing actions required by the CFATF that the mere passing of the bill would not suffice for the purpose of convincing the regional body that Guyana was taking all of the requisite steps. Therefore Ms Teixeira’s decision to close off deliberations on the flimsy notion that time was running out and that the opposition MPs were delinquent could easily provide grounds for contemplation of whether the government itself was trying to ensure that there was no bill. Clearly the quality and depth of communications between the Leader of the House for Government Business, the Prime Minister and Ms Teixeira is deficient.

It is all the more unacceptable that she closed off deliberation on the grounds of urgency when the government frittered away nearly three years in stymieing the approaches and warnings of the CFATF. Indeed, the 2012 report of the Financial Intelligence Unit which was tabled in Parliament on Thursday admits that of the 16 key and core recommendations put to the Government of Guyana following a January 2010 evaluation, the country was non-compliant with six and only partially compliant with the other 10. The opposition could not be accused of this failure. The correspondence between the government and the CFATF clearly established the delinquency and dereliction of the PPP/C in this matter, the irony being that up to 2011 when it possessed an unfettered parliamentary majority the government could have easily piloted the amendments outlined by the CFATF and this would have dispatched with the present impasse facing the assembly. In recognition of this gross failure one would have expected that the PPP/C would have been prepared to see reason on companion laws and institutions to the anti-money laundering bill such as the Public Procurement Commission. Despite its failures on engaging with the CFATF, the PPP/C was unwilling to compromise in these areas.

As for A Partnership for National Unity, its failure thus far to publicly present amendments to the bill calls into question its strategy and ability to think out its own position. It has offered the specious excuse  that it wanted to benefit from the input of all the presentations before the select committee before providing its amendments. It is surely understandable that APNU wanted to glean the collective wisdom of all those who would have appeared before the committee but that in itself should not have stopped the coalition from publishing its position a month or two ago. This would have allowed the larger public to understand what APNU’s concerns were vis a vis the weaknesses of the bill and that could have galvanised more public pressure on the PPP/C government to compromise on the terms of the bill whether on the Financial Intelligence Unit or the powers of the minister etc,  Instead, the public to date has no idea what APNU was formally proposing and may never know, while the government has not wasted any time in questioning the seriousness of the main opposition grouping and will likely milk that for all its worth before the CFATF. APNU should now publish its proposed amendments – at least up to this point – so that the public could be aware of its thinking.

Lastly, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has taken an active position in this debate on behalf of its constituents. This is most welcome as too often civil society plays a background role and loses the opportunity to shape important debates. There has been an array of statements from the PSC, its constituents and individuals in the umbrella body imploring all sides to act in the interest of the country and to pass the bill. These statements have been accompanied by dire warnings and concerns about what would happen to the business community were the legislation not passed. It now behoves the PSC and its constituents to embark upon detailed information gathering from all of its members of any apparent or real change in the conduct of the gamut of transactions it is immersed in. This publicly presented information will not only serve as an early warning system of troubled waters but will help to inform and enrich the debate around exactly what scale of trouble the country faces following the failure of the bill. This has to be solid and verified information, not the anecdotes and hearsay that have been bandied about. It may also want to consider inviting members of the public to provide it with testimony of any undue occurrences in their financial transactions since Thursday’s sitting.

The failure of the bill last Thursday should kindle in the parliamentary parties a renewed quest to urgently resolve their differences in the national interest.




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